LAURA JAYES: Welcome back. A Parliamentary Inquiry will scrutinise the federal Government's decision to block more Qatar Airways flights into the country. This is amid claims the Prime Minister struck a sweetheart deal with the former Qantas CEO Alan Joyce. Mr. Joyce stood down from the top job yesterday. This is two months earlier than expected. That means this is Vanessa Hudson's first day in the job. Joining me live now is Shadow Finance Minister Jane Hume. Thanks so much for your time. What do you hope to uncover from this Senate inquiry?
JANE HUME: Well, there does seem Laura, to have been a lack of transparency in the decision making to deny Qatar Airways additional routes to Australia, that would have added an additional 1 million seats at a time when airline prices are now around 50% higher than they were pre-COVID and our capacity is around 25% lower, we know that that Qatar Airways decision, if it had have gone ahead would have lowered the cost of airfares for all Australians. Now, the Government has claimed that it was a decision taken in the national interest and the minister Catherine King said she consulted widely on the issue. But we can't seem to find a single Minister with whom she has consulted, including those that are in the National Security Committee of Cabinet and certainly the Prime Minister has distanced himself from this decision. So how did the decision get made? If it is in the national interest, what does the national interest mean? Because it does sound more like a decision that was made in Qantas’ interest, rather than in consumers' interests.
LAURA JAYES: Okay, so who are you going to call before this inquiry? Catherine King, Vanessa Hudson?
JANE HUME: We'll call whoever needs to be called upon when it's much broader than just the Minister and Qantas too, there are other players in the airline industry that we've heard from. Industry experts, economists, have already come out and spoken, for instance, you know, Graham Turner of Flight Center, as well as Jayne Hrdlicka from Virgin, all of these commentators and players in the industry will have a position on this, we want to understand what it is that's been behind the decision and what the implications of that decision are.
LAURA JAYES: Yes, that's that's fine with Jayne and Graham to call them. But if you actually want to get answers, isn't it Catherine King, and Vanessa Hudson that can provide them or the Prime Minister himself?
JANE HUME: Well, that will be up to the Committee as to who they choose to call. But the most important thing here is to get underneath the hood of the decision, why Qatar Airways was denied those additional routes when we know that had they been given those additional routes then the cost of air fares would have come down, potentially would have come down somewhere between 20 and 40%. That's what industry experts are saying and now that there's increased pressure, not just from industry participants, but also from Labor Premiers from other states, even from Wayne Swan. We've got to start scratching our heads and say, have they made the wrong decision here? And is there an opportunity to reverse it? If not, why not? Because Australians are paying the price.
LAURA JAYES: Well, this is Vanessa Hudson's first day, she’s been the CFO, she's been at Qantas for decades upon decades. Is she really the right person to lead this company out of the hole it’s in?
JANE HUME: Well, it's certainly terrific to see a female CEO step up to the plate, particularly one that's come from the position of CFO. So she understands the numbers behind Qantas and what makes the airline tick, we would hope to see that this is a fresh start in from Qantas’ perspective and the new attitude towards the flying public that rely so heavily on what we keep referring to as the national carrier, ensues after the ascension of the new CEO. I think that that's exactly the message that she's trying to send out too.
LAURA JAYES: But to come out and say we promise to put customers first, that tells you everything you need to know doesn't about what's wrong at Qantas in recent months, the fact that that wasn't so obvious to them in the first place?
JANE HUME: Look, obviously Qantas have an objective, which is to be a profitable airline. We understand that, that's why Alan Joyce made the decisions that he has made. However, I think that the backlash from the flying public and indeed from the regulators, and now from Government as well, suggests that they perhaps had a tin ear on the issues that were affecting all of us. The good news is I think that we can draw a line in the sand and move on. But at the same time, we want to make sure that the Government is doing its part in unwinding what does seem to be a very cosy relationship between the current Government and Qantas.
LAURA JAYES: It’s always been cosy, with successive Governments', what was different with that decision when the Coalition was in power for a decade?
JANE HUME: Well, that decision to deny Qatar Airways at the expense of the flying public, at a cost to ordinary Australians, I think is a significant one that does need to be unpacked. The last time that similar decisions were made, that the Government is now pointing to, that Minister McCormack made in the previous Government, that was the time when airfares were at record lows, not record highs. Why was this decision made during a cost of living crisis? That's really the questions that we want to have answered.
LAURA JAYES: Are you in danger of over-egging your support perhaps for Qatar here, given there has been no apologies for that horrific incident that happened on their aircraft regarding women?
JANE HUME: The event that occurred to those women was just extraordinary. It was appalling and my understanding is that at the time, we worked quite closely with the Qatari Government to ensure that there was indeed an apology issued. However, there's probably still some questions to answer there and certainly there is an ongoing legal case, which I'm not going to comment on, because it is still within the courts. That said, this is a very separate decision and the separate decision is one about the cost of airfares and whether the Government has made decisions to limit competition in a market where it knows prices are now artificially inflated. The Government had an opportunity to lower airfares for Australians - and it chose not to, it chose not to. Why hasn't anyone been able to explain? So now it's if Catherine King says that the national interest, in whatever the national interest is, that is what we want to have explained to us. Because, you know, quite frankly, if it's security issues, why hasn't she consulted with those members of her Cabinet that are involved in the security portfolio?
LAURA JAYES: You're right, it would have been taken to the National Committee of Cabinet to discuss that issue. But one last question is when we talk about that horrific incident that happened on Qatar and Qatar Airways, you know, would you blame the Government if they might not be able to say publicly, but if that weighed on their thinking in this decision?
JANE HUME: It does sound inconsistent, though, doesn't it? Because Qatar Airways already has routes to Australia.
LAURA JAYES: Sure but if you were in this position, would you be taking into account that incident?
JANE HUME: Well, if she is taking that incident into account, should she not be more explicit about that? And if she has taken that into account, and let’s face it, it is a human rights issue, why has she not discussed this with Penny Wong, who would be the relevant Minister. Penny Wong has already said that she wasn't consulted on the decision around Qatar. So there's too many inconsistencies here. That's what this Senate inquiry will hopefully uncover.
LAURA JAYES: Okay, Jane Hume, always good to talk to you. Thanks so much.